Sopris Sun Correspondent
Town staff and members of the Carbondale Board of Trustees will have to be a little more careful about their use of Facebook and other social media to connect with constituents, and town employees will have to shut their vehicle engines off more diligently than they may be used to, under two new policies adopted by the trustees at a meeting on Tuesday.
The board on Tuesday adopted specific policies this week on the idling of town-owned vehicles, and the use of social media by town officials and employees to get the word out to the citizenry, at their regular meeting.
There was no decision, however, concerning the most fervently discussed item on Tuesday’s agenda — selection of a new tenant for the vacant Gordon Cooper Library building at Fourth and Main streets.
Further discussion of the four proposals — by the Carbondale Chamber of Commerce, the Carbondale Council on Arts and Humanities, organizers of a non-traditional cafe and gathering place, and proponents of a low-cost hostel for visitors to the area — will continue on June 10.
“We’ve been slow to embrace this,” said Town Manager Jay Harrington about the new social media policy, explaining that many other communities already have such policies in effect.
And the town is doing it now, he said, “because the public’s asked for it. It’s in response to folks saying we need better information about the town.”
The new policy, which is not an ordinance, lays out in some detail what the town’s official position is regarding the use of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media as a way of communicating with residents.
The eight-page policy identifies several town staffers who will be in charge of managing the flow of the information, and cautions the trustees to not write too much or express opinions that might run counter to state laws governing open records, open meetings and other transparency guidelines.
Harrington predicted that the town would rely increasingly on the social media as a tool to spread word of emergencies, changes to such things as bus-stop locations caused by town construction activities, updates regarding the ongoing Highway 133 redevelopment project, and other matters requiring “real-time” announcements.
But, he added, “The more general, press-release-type stuff will still go on the town’s website (www.carbondalegov.org).” That will include meeting agendas, meeting minutes, public service announcements and other official communications.
“This has been a hot topic for municipalities for years,” Harrington said, noting, for example, that Carbondale Police Chief Gene Schilling has been eager to use social media for law-enforcement-related announcements and has “been after me to get the policy written.”
The use of social media is necessary, Harrington said, because more and more people turn to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for information of all kinds, and “rarely go to websites any more.”
He used his 12-year-old son as an example.
But, he emphasized, those unfamiliar or uncomfortable with using social media should not worry that they will be missing out due to a shift in the town’s interaction with its constituents.
“I don’t see this as a shift,” he said. “We’re looking at parallel universes,” using both the new technology and more established methods of communicating with residents at the same time.
“The whole intent is to make it easier and more transparent,” he concluded.
The new policy restricting engine-idling of town-owned vehicles was brought to the trustees by Garfield County Environmental Health Specialist Morgan Hill, who has been working on the policy with town staff “for a while,” according to Harrington.
“We’ve got very good buy-in from the staff,” Harrington told the trustees on Tuesday.
“I’m glad we’re finally abiding by our own law,” chimed in Mayor Stacey Bernot, referring to the town’s existing ordinance against idling vehicles in general.
That ordinance declares that “idling of vehicles wastes fuel, creates pollution and causes premature engine wear and produces harmful effects to the environment,” and prohibits idling of vehicles longer than for 10 minutes “after a cold start.”
There are numerous exemptions listed in the code, such as for vehicles that must remain running while being loaded, unloaded or for refrigeration of perishable contents in a truck’s trailer.
But in many cases where idling may seem to be simply a normal consequence of driving a vehicle, such as waiting in stalled traffic or the line at a drive-up window, the code requires that the vehicle be turned off.
In adopting the ordinance, Hill told the trustees, they are creating a situation where town employees “are serving as a model to your community. It raises community awareness.”
She said Garfield County created the idling policy, and series of presentations aimed at adoption of the policy by towns within the county, using a $5,000 grant in 2012 from the Colorado Department of Transportation.
Another grant of the same amount came through this year, she said, and is to be used for continuing education and outreach activities around the county.
While discussing the policy, several trustees suggested different ways of educating the public, such as special bumper stickers, notification of banks and other businesses where idling vehicles often line up, e-mail “blasts” to citizens of neighborhoods where idling has been known to be a problem, and reminders enclosed in city water bills sent to town residents.
In other action, the trustees:
• Approved Carbondale’s participation in a letter to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which contains “scoping comments” urging the agency to void or cancel oil and gas leases in the Thompson Divide region near Carbondale.
• Approved special-event liquor licenses for a Bonedale Bike Week closing party, from 4:30-9:30 p.m. on May 16 at the town recreation center on Colorado Avenue; and for a fund-raiser for the Thunder River Theater on May 17, to be held from 6-10 p.m., at The Orchard church on Snowmass Drive.
• Renewed the medical marijuana dispensary and cultivation license for The Center, 60 N. Third St.